The T.I.S College Bookstore in Bloomington hosted their second annual Big Wheel 500 event on April 24th. The timing was deliberately aimed to coincide with the excitement of two other campus events, the Little 500, an annual bicycle race at the University, and “World’s Greatest College Weekend.” The bookstore had formerly been one of the exclusive ticket retailers for the Little 500, which was a terrific opportunity to promote their branded merchandise, as well as other items.
However, a change came about two or three years ago when the decision was made to offer tickets only through Ticketmaster. Chris Kurtz, social media specialist, said that they were “left scrambling” to come up with ways to continue the store’s association with the race in the minds of both locals and visitors. Faced with the potential loss of tie-in sales, the creative team at T.I.S. College Bookstore decided to host their own event and the Big Wheel 500 was born.
The bookstore partnered with local businesses for giveaway items and took over the parking lot for their own race. Instead of bicycles, the teams would pedal Big Wheels over the asphalt.
In its inaugural year, the event faced unexpectedly bad weather. Despite the snow, the response was great. Spectators ignored the frosty temperature and enjoyed free ice cream courtesy of a local vendor. This year, the weather cooperated and the response was even better. Nearby restaurants provided free ice cream and pizza, and a DJ increased the festive feeling. The crowd drew stragglers in from the major bus hub across the street throughout the duration of the event.
“The music playing really draws them in,” Kurtz said. “Not to mention the adult-sized people riding on little plastic Big Wheels!”
T.I.S. College Bookstore uses the event primarily to drive sales of its Little 500 merchandise and increase awareness that it is one of the exclusive retailers of these items.
“We want our store to be a destination spot for visitors,” he explained.
The store also offered great prizes to attract participants. All of the members of the first place team won $50 gift certificates to the T.I.S. College Bookstore and second place winners received tickets to the Little 500 Barbeque.
This year, the event was promoted in-store with posters and signage, as well as online with Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. The latter has been a particularly valuable resource in marketing to students.
“Instagram has been a great digital tool to increase interaction with students and raise awareness of our brick and mortar store. Both Instagram and Foursquare help us promote seamlessly.”
The immediacy of social media can make postings from even a week ago seem stale. Kurtz always considers this when he plans an event like the Big Wheel 500.
“I’m all about how far can I make this go? How much content can I generate from this one event? It’s only an hour long, but we can make it relevant for much longer by putting some brand awareness in when we post pictures,” he emphasized.
The amount of money T.I.S. College Bookstore spent for this promotion was around $25 collectively, which generated a remarkable amount of interest for such a small investment. Kurtz has found that using Facebook and Instagram as much as possible helps keep advertising costs low overall, and he encourages other stores to do the same.
In fact, he offered some sound advice regarding the use of social media, and Facebook in particular.
“It’s kind of pointless to use the same content in print and online. We’re too smart as Facebook users to be fooled by obvious marketing. It’s more important as a brand to increase engagement subliminally with art and content or widgets that are relevant to the interests of the user. On Facebook, it’s especially important to increase activity and engagement organically and not force it.”
The Big Wheels will keep on rolling next year! Since they’ve had so much success so far, they plan to continue in the same way, but will adjust to any changes in the online landscape.
“Who can say what the digital or social media frontrunner will be next year? We’ll continue to evolve with it,” Kurtz said. If anything changes physically at all, it will probably be an upgrade for the vehicles. “It may be time to buy some sturdy adult Big Wheels.”